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This article is part of the supplement: Proceedings of the Sixth Annual MCBIOS Conference. Transformational Bioinformatics: Delivering Value from Genomes

Open Access Proceedings

NATbox: a network analysis toolbox in R

Shweta S Chavan1, Michael A Bauer1, Marco Scutari2 and Radhakrishnan Nagarajan3*

Author Affiliations

1 UALR/UAMS Joint Bioinformatics Program, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

2 Department of Statistical Sciences, University of Padova, Italy

3 Department of Biostatistics, University of Arkansas for Medical Science, USA

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BMC Bioinformatics 2009, 10(Suppl 11):S14  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-10-S11-S14

Published: 8 October 2009



There has been recent interest in capturing the functional relationships (FRs) from high-throughput assays using suitable computational techniques. FRs elucidate the working of genes in concert as a system as opposed to independent entities hence may provide preliminary insights into biological pathways and signalling mechanisms. Bayesian structure learning (BSL) techniques and its extensions have been used successfully for modelling FRs from expression profiles. Such techniques are especially useful in discovering undocumented FRs, investigating non-canonical signalling mechanisms and cross-talk between pathways. The objective of the present study is to develop a graphical user interface (GUI), NATbox: Network Analysis Toolbox in the language R that houses a battery of BSL algorithms in conjunction with suitable statistical tools for modelling FRs in the form of acyclic networks from gene expression profiles and their subsequent analysis.


NATbox is a menu-driven open-source GUI implemented in the R statistical language for modelling and analysis of FRs from gene expression profiles. It provides options to (i) impute missing observations in the given data (ii) model FRs and network structure from gene expression profiles using a battery of BSL algorithms and identify robust dependencies using a bootstrap procedure, (iii) present the FRs in the form of acyclic graphs for visualization and investigate its topological properties using network analysis metrics, (iv) retrieve FRs of interest from published literature. Subsequently, use these FRs as structural priors in BSL (v) enhance scalability of BSL across high-dimensional data by parallelizing the bootstrap routines.


NATbox provides a menu-driven GUI for modelling and analysis of FRs from gene expression profiles. By incorporating readily available functions from existing R-packages, it minimizes redundancy and improves reproducibility, transparency and sustainability, characteristic of open-source environments. NATbox is especially suited for interdisciplinary researchers and biologists with minimal programming experience and would like to use systems biology approaches without delving into the algorithmic aspects. The GUI provides appropriate parameter recommendations for the various menu options including default parameter choices for the user. NATbox can also prove to be a useful demonstration and teaching tool in graduate and undergraduate course in systems biology. It has been tested successfully under Windows and Linux operating systems. The source code along with installation instructions and accompanying tutorial can be found at webcite.